Joyce Krajian and John Allen are the parents of journalist Christopher Allen, who was killed in South Sudan in 2017.
In the few weeks left until Joe Biden becomes president, somewhere in the world at least one journalist, maybe more, will be killed in connection with their work. The killing is likely to be committed with impunity, possibly without an investigation ever taking place.
The past decade has seen nearly 1,000 journalists killed around the world — either deliberately targeted or dying in the line of duty — with no one held to account in the overwhelming majority of these cases. Whether Biden chooses, early in his administration, to make a priority of journalists’ safety could prove to be a matter of life or death for those who risk their lives to get the truth out.
Our son, Christopher Allen, was one of these journalists killed. He died on August 26, 2017, at age 26. A dual American-British citizen who was born in Pennsylvania and grew up there, Chris was killed while reporting on South Sudan’s civil war. He was working as a freelance journalist and had a bright future, but that future was taken from him, from us, and from those whose stories he was so intent on telling to the world.
After covering conflicts in Ukraine and Turkey, Chris went to South Sudan in 2017. He embedded with the Sudan People’s Liberation Movement-in-Opposition, a rebel faction attempting to overthrow the government based in Juba. He spent three weeks with the rebels — an extraordinary level of access — before being killed while covering a clash in Kaya, near South Sudan’s border with Uganda.
More than three years later, we still don’t know the full circumstances of Chris’s killing, as there has been no investigation. The forensic evidence from a private autopsy we commissioned and journalistic reporting we have seen suggest that the South Sudanese military deliberately targeted our son — a civilian armed with only a camera and notebook and the desire to tell the human story of the conflict.
Chris was shot repeatedly from mid-to long-range distance, with the bullets following the same trajectory — typical of being targeted, not of getting caught in a crossfire.
After his death, the South Sudan government called him a “White rebel” and threatened any other journalists who would embed with opposition fighters. Images of his stripped body were posted on social media and were taken down only after protests to the South Sudan government.
We believe that Chris’s killing and the mistreatment of his body after his death constitute war crimes, and we are exploring legal means of obtaining accountability in any jurisdiction possible.
The day Chris was killed was the start of a long and painful journey for us. In our fight for justice, we have been repeatedly let down by the very institutions — including the U.S. government — with a duty to protect journalists and safeguard freedom of expression.
The State Department has provided us with only minimal consular support. Worse, the FBI has failed to substantively respond to our legal request that the agency launch a war-crimes investigation, even though the U.N. special rapporteur on extrajudicial, summary or arbitrary executions has also urged the FBI to conduct an independent inquiry into the killing.
The FBI’s inaction reflects a deteriorating U.S. record on press freedom, which has created a vacuum in global leadership regarding the safety of journalists during the past four years.
Biden can turn this around. Strong leadership in the battle against the targeting of journalists would send a clear message to the world that the United States once again stands in support of press freedom — a hallmark of democratic values.
A good first step to address this issue on a global scale would be supporting the call by Reporters Without Borders for the United Nations to establish a special representative for the safety of journalists.
As parents, we ask the president-elect — who is no stranger to the unspeakable pain of losing a child — to make Chris’s case a priority.
We urge him to ensure that our son’s death is diligently investigated and that justice is served so that U.S. journalists do not continue to be viewed as targets abroad, and other families won’t have to experience the pain we’ve endured.